IBM’s annual Master the Mainframe contest sets to teach participants mainframe skills by gaining real-world enterprise computing experience. Run by the IBM z Systems Academic Initiative, it’s aimed at high school and college students in over 70 countries.
The contest—for students with little to no previous mainframe experience—is set up of three parts, each increasingly more difficult. They include learning the basics, practice and try challenges.
With regional contests held around the world, students from many regions are able to participate. New is the Mainframe Contest Learning System, an opportunity for anyone in the world, from those without a regional contest available or currently open contest, to participate and learn the skills. Find a regional contest or join the learning system.
2016 U.S. and Canada Winners Announced
The top three winners of the 2016 IBM z Systems Master the Mainframe for U.S. and Canada attended the recent SHARE in San Jose event. There, they were presented with their trophy and got to experience all the user group’s annual winter event had to offer. The winners are:
1. Brian Powers, business computer information systems major, University of North Texas
2. Ari Kenney, computer science major, U.C. Berkeley
3. Cindy Diaz, fall 2016 computer programmer graduate, Georgian College
While all three first heard about the contest through school and were encouraged to participate, they’re still using their enterprise computing skills.
Diaz first had a mainframe-related internship at a bank, which sparked her interest in the contest. “I really wanted to learn more about the mainframe so I could understand more of the discussions during my internship,” she says. For her internship she was working in performance and capacity. With the contest she got a more whole view of the platform. After college, Diaz was able to find a job where she did her internship. She likes the opportunity, as it will allow her to keep learning and improving her skills with the mainframe.
Kenney is taking a longer path. A freshman in college, this was his fifth year participating in Master the Mainframe. He graduated from Lake Brantley High School in Florida, well known for producing students interested in the mainframe, promoted by teach Seth Reichelson.
Because the content in the contest is different each year—what kind of challenges, software or systems the students are using—Kenney found that while previous participation in the contest helps, it’s no guarantee.
“I tend to improve a little a bit except for this year,” he notes. “I started being able to work fast enough to win part two. Then last year I won first place out of everybody. This year I kind of slipped down to second place, but I was the second person in the world to finish part two, so that’s pretty cool.”
He says that it keeps the contest fun since the contest objectives are different every year. Read a profile on Kenney
when he was named 2015 Master the Mainframe, U.S. and Canada, winner.
Challenges and Understandings
Powers, who joined the contest to dive deeper than his mainframe classwork, enjoyed the challenge of the contest. “I thought I knew SQL pretty well before the contest, but then that last challenge really put a limitation on it where you had to get good subselects and dig into SQL a lot more,” he says. After college, he plans to get a job working with the z Systems platform or other systems that are integrating with it.
Sometimes the challenge with working on the mainframe comes way before part three. “Looking at the Vista screen for the first time, I was seeing the all-caps and the bright colors and it looked like something from 1973,” Kenney remembers. “I wondered why it was still around. Now as I’ve gone deeper, I understand why and how necessary it is for so many things. But the first experience was pretty jarring.”
Powers understands that sentiment: “I'm tutoring the introductory mainframe class at my university and a lot of people, their eyes just glass over the first time they see the 3270 emulator come up. They are just like ‘What is this class?’ ”
He found that understanding the system clicked during his second mainframe course where he started digging into the platform and then talking a bit more about where it’s used and why it’s necessary.
Value Experienced Firsthand
Kenney says younger people shouldn’t write off the z Systems platform. “People tend to really like things that are like new and different,” he says. “The mainframe doesn't come off that way even though it is being constantly innovated on and improved.”
Diaz encourages people to give learning about the mainframe and entering the contest a shot, as that’s what it takes to see the value of the system firsthand. Getting into it, she has realized it’s a community and how the mainframe is important and affects people every day.
IBM Master the Mainframe World Championship Exposes Top Students to Analytics and Data Storage
Learn more about the IBM z Systems Master the Mainframe contest
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Valerie Dennis is site editor of Destination z.